February 9, 2011

Skype You Later Alligator....

We did it... We finally did it....
Repeat after me... " I Skype, you Skype, he Skypes, we Skype."

OK, let me get off my cloud, and backtrack for a sec, so you too can share in my euphoria.

Every year, students in my daughter's school (Cathedral School- MO) participate in a wonderful whole school geography project. Each class selects a country; and for a 2 weeks period students conduct research about it. They share their findings in a "World Fair" where other classes, parents, and anyone interested can come and learn about the various countries, their geography, their history, their culture and more. (this year, they are attempting to build a wiki to share with the world)

My daughter Zoë (a new 5th grader at Cathedral), had been praising Belgium (my native land) to such an extent, that the 3rd grade class picked it as its "2011 Country to learn about." I was pretty excited about it too. I love to talk about Belgium... (you know... that little country most Americans go through on their way to Germany or to Paris...LOL) Best kept secret in Europe if you ask me...LOL

After a quick chit chat with the 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Lauren Supple regarding what type of resources I could provide them with (yes it did include some Belgian Chocolate), we realized that my contacts in Belgium, might just provide us with the perfect opportunity to try and set up our very 1st virtual exchange via Skype.
Surely, I could find a school in Belgium who would be interested. So I quickly posted a message on Facebook, tagging about 20 of my elementary teachers friends, asking for anyone wishing to participate to contact me... Oh man...were they interested... Problem was, most of the answers were along the lines of "I would love to, but we are not equipped for it." Needless to say I was starting to wonder if my "big fat mouth" had once again betrayed me... Then came our saving grace... One of my college friend, Stéphanie Mercenier, offered to work with us. She was teaching second grade (1 year off), but was fully equipped with an LCD projector, and even a smartboard. We had our winner... We would Skype with the 2nd grade class from Ecole Primaire St Croix, in Hannut (Belgium). Perfect... Problem solved... NO issues... Wrong....

Neither teacher had ever used Skype in the classroom, but both were very determined to see this project through. Heck, Stéphanie had never even used Skype before, but in a true 21st century educator fashion, she ran with it. Both were kinda looking to me for advice on how to communicate (translation would be needed), and were kinda looking to me for "professional advice/guidance" on how to use it.... Way to go "Big Mouth."... OK I'll admit, I was so stoked... Over the last year, I have often been saying that I'd love to be a technology Instruction Specialist/Coach when I grew up... LOL... well... Here was my big chance... Two eager teachers, two very motivated classes, and a pretty cool project... Oh and we had exactly 4 days to put it together. My kind of challenge.

I was also worried about the technical aspect of this endeavor. I was not about to be responsible for letting down a whole bunch of 7 and 8 year olds. Thank God, for Joe Dale... He and his UK Tweeps (I think he refers to them as UK Twitterati), always come through for me with very valuable resources. Joe had the best step by step blog post on How-to Skype in the classroom. I went to work

I met with Lauren, and we discussed the need for this conversation to be students initiated as much as possible. Right away, she got to work. Her students came up with a list of questions they would like to ask their Belgian counterparts, and emailed it to me promptly. I Tweaked it a little by converting this Word document into a Google Doc, in order to be able to fully collaborate, and to publish it as a webpage... I was already thinking about the follow up...  Then I contacted Stéphanie, who by then had signed up for a Skype account. Within seconds of my phone call, she too was a Google user, and was accessing our document. She turned around and within 12 hours, had her students come up with their own list of questions... Same process... I talked to both of them about the need for "structure" during the conversation. Students should all have a job to do... Some needed to be the "interviewers", some would be the "interviewees", some would be on documentation duty (photographer, cameraman, reporter, etc.), and some might even be on crowd control duty. Both teachers  "got after it," and had a game plan in place within 2 days... My kind of pace... So we were all set... all scheduled in... the US students would come to school on Tuesday February 1st at 7:30 (1/2 hour early), and the Belgian students would stay until 3:30 pm (1/2 hour later)... See we were already learning about time zones... Wonderful.. Add to this the fact that Stéphanie had in her class a new student this year who used to live in England... How perfect was that... They were going to be able to have their own translator.

 Ready, set, SK... Wait.... What is that???? Oh yeah... That's when the "snowstorm of the century" hit Missouri, and school got cancelled all week. Talk about a bummer... I knew to expect glitches, but Really??? Weather delay???? How do you want me to explain that one to a bunch of 8 year old????

Never mind... We were on a mission, and it would take more than ice, snow and a blizzard to stop us. We were finally able to reschedule the experience for today, February 8. It ensured better weather in Missouri, and added time for the Belgian side to do a little more research of their own (colored a few american flags, discussed the statue of Liberty etc." To quote Stéphanie: " I have never seen a bunch of 2nd graders that interested in Missouri Weather..." Take that Mother Nature...

Today it happened.... Today was perfect....

So there you have it... 1 big fat mouth + 2 fantastic daring teachers+ a bunch of really cool kids + a little help from my friends = a great experience that I cannot wait to reproduce.

So now... Repeat after me .... " I Skype, you Skype, he Skypes, WE all can Skype."

Watch the video of the event... Recorded by Hunter (age 8)... Note to self... in the future bring a tripod...LOL

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Photo Gallery: USA side --- Belgium side (coming soon)

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